“Nishtha is next to my Mom and without ‘Shikkhai Hatiyar’ project so many girls like me could not have pursued their school education. The support I have received so far from ‘Shikkai Hatiyar’ project helped me dream big and I hope someday I would able to get established in life and help others too.”
– Jaya, 13 years old
Established in London, Karuna Trust has worked with local community groups for over 40 years to help South Asia’s poorest people lead meaningful and dignified lives. They are committed to human development, enabling people to escape poverty, access their legal rights and participate fully in society. Discrimination against girls in West Bengal has been a major problem where parents may not see any value in educating girls, who will traditionally be married off at an early age. Thus, only 30% of girls in West Bengal complete primary education, and only 1.8% qualify for secondary exams. The region is also renowned as a target rich environment for traffickers of young girls. Local government and media reports put the number of disappeared women and girls in the region to be as high as 8,000 per year.
PAWA started donating in 2015 in support of Nishtha – Karuna’s Adolescent Girl Empowerment Through Education Project in West Bengal. This was the first year of a four year programme working with the Dalit community to support 450 girls from the poorest families in West Bengal by maximising girls’ admission and retention in local schools, by reducing incidences of child marriage and by improving knowledge on reproductive health, hygiene, and basic rights. Annual grants by PAWA have continued to provide school fees, books, clothes and appropriate educational support that is relevant to the local community.
Participation and leadership opportunities through girls’ and women’s groups focusing on these issues have empowered and educated these women. By organising these groups and training their leaders, Karuna has given this community the tools to mobilise the wider community. Their learning is disseminated amongst all the members, as well as building solidarity amidst themselves.
The area was hit by the double challenge of Covid 19 and a massive cyclone in 2020 and the project has focused on supporting the already impoverished families and communities where the girls live. In 2021 PAWA is supporting the continuation of another 4 year programme, this time for 800 girls.